Teaching & Learning

A Gap year is...

...a period of time often taken between high school and college to learn about the world outside of formal educational institutions. A Gap Year can last anywhere from a few weeks or months up to an entire year. Students can design their own experience or join one designed by a GAP Year organization (see Gap Year Resources for a few). Several commercial firms offer counseling and other support, matching students with existing opportunities and counseling students and families who choose to design unique programs. The Gap Year experience is increasingly valued by families, colleges and prospective employers who have seen the positive effects of a Gap Year on students' maturity and independence. Is a Gap Year right for you? This information is provided as a service. The Friends Council on Education does not directly endorse these organizations or programs, and does not have direct experience with them.

Photo: Sandy Spring Friends School

A student can:

  • discover, explore or test a passion
  • experience growth-producing risk in a reasonably safe setting
  • take a sabbatical of sorts from classroom learning
  • put one's strengths to work in a new setting
  • enjoy and grow from a significant change of pace
  • bring an academic interest to life in a community setting
  • be productive, make a difference for others
  • have significant first hand experience in another culture
  • challenge oneself in ways that go beyond academic
  • make a special commitment and take action
  • learn a new language
  • become better prepared for university studies

Possible outcomes of a successful gap year

The experience of a Gap Year may hone strengths and uncover new interests. Sometimes a student will discover an interest that will become a life-long passion. Students usually return from a Gap Year more mature, having gained perspective; more experienced, having thrived in new contexts with new challenges; and more ready for the rigors of university study. The knowledge of self that these students have earned bestows greater confidence and better readiness for undergraduate work.

Do Friends schools encourage students to have a Gap Year experience?

Friends schools have long valued authentic life experience and do encourage families to consider the full range of post high school opportunities. College counselors and others at Friends schools see the increasing interest in taking a Gap Year to be a healthy and natural extension of a central aspect of Friends education.
Photo: Sandy Spring Friends School 

All Friends schools offer and some require short-term student-designed life-experience explorations of some sort (individual and group service projects, senior study, junior project, senior project, etc.). Friends Meetings, agencies, and schools pioneered service as essential in learning, and a wide range of such programs are offered to current students, including experiences in local communities and experiences overseas. Student voice and choice is fundamental to these programs, and student voice plays a role in the ongoing improvement of each. Guided reflection in experience—a process that's habitual in Quaker environments is similarly central in this tradition.

Quaker schools were also involved with those who founded the American Field Service program, which for nearly 60 years has offered study-abroad experiences for high school students, including full year programs, summer programs, and service learning programs.

Most Friends schools have worked with individuals and the families of students who seek Gap Year experiences. Several Friends schools have considerable experience over many years. Quaker schools invite families to explore gap year possibilities. Each school will offer support in ways that fit the school's resources and policies.